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Monday, June 22, 2020

Hot Springs, AK - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 7

Stop 7 of our Florida to New Mexico And Back road trip was Hot Springs, Arkansas.  We had an opportunity to visit one more national park as we headed back to Florida.  We were excited about seeing the hot springs at Hot Springs National Park.  But first we needed to find the campground we would be spending the next three nights in.  

We reserved a site at Lake Catherine State Park not only because of the special name of the lake, lol, but because it was only 12 miles from I-30, the highway that brought us all the way from Dallas to Arkansas and it was only 20 minutes away from Hot Springs National Park.

(Please read more about this campground in a post coming soon!)

The next thing we needed to do, after we checked into the campground and set up our trailer, was to find a laundromat.  We are finding out that most state park campgrounds don't have washer and dryers.  It was not a problem finding a place near the park to do our laundry though.  

After we worked together to get this chore done quickly, we headed back to the campground to have dinner and continue our 500 Rummy tournament.

The plan for our first full day in Arkansas was to visit Hot Springs National Park. We thought our GPS got confused when it brought us to a city street lined with parking meters and not to a parking lot in the middle of a forest. We parked our car, luckily we had a few quarters on us, and went to find the visitors center to get directions to the park.

On the way to the visitors center we passed the Hot Springs National Park sign. We were getting even more confused now!

The visitors center was located, just around the corner, on Bathhouse Row in what was the Fordyce Bathhouse. This bathhouse now houses the visitor center and has been turned into a museum. We took the self-guided tour of the museum since we were there. We walked through most of the 23 furnished rooms that gave us a good idea of what the bathhouse looked liked in it's heyday.

We bumped into a group on a tour with a guide and stayed in one room with them and learned about the workings of the bathhouse. The tour takes place daily.

Now that we had our map, we could find our way into the park. It was exactly where our GPS led us. The entrance was right where we parked our car and we missed it completely. On our walk back to the car, we passed the Hot Water Cascade at the Arlington Lawn, a park just past the bathhouses on Bathhouse Row. This is what the area looked like 200 years ago before there were bathhouses.

Before we ventured into the park we stopped at one of the jug fountains to fill our water bottles with fresh spring water.

We got back to the car with a little time to spare on the meter and headed to the park entrance. The park was small enough that we could see most of it on our drive along Hot Springs Mountain Trail Drive.

We made a pit stop to have lunch near the entrance of the Hot Springs Mountain Trail and after lunch we hiked the 1-1/2 mile trail.

One highlight of this hike was a gazebo perched high on a hill that offered a great view of the park and surrounding city.

We didn't see any springs on our hike because most of the 47 springs throughout the park are covered to prevent contamination.  We did see a small trickle of water here and there though.

After our hike we got back in the car and did the rest of the Hot Springs Mountain Drive. It took us around and then out of the park. We found a free parking lot in the middle of the town and then went to check out the rest of Bathhouse Row.

Just like the Fordyce Bathhouse, the Ozark Bathhouse has been renovated from it's former bathhouse state. It is now the Ozark Cultural Center. You can find a a collection of artist-in-resident artwork on display here and can also find the national park sticker if you are collecting them for your national park passport!

This bathhouse, the Buckstaff, is the only one that has remained opened, since they started being built in 1877, when the others all closed down by 1985 and is still an active bathhouse along with the Quapaw bathhouse.

Across the street from the bathhouses were lots of souvenir, specialty shops and restaurants.   We stopped in a few of the shops and found a couple of souvenirs to bring home.

On our walk around the town we noticed that Hot Springs was pretty proud of how popular they once were with Al Capone and other well-known gangsters.

But this town is definitely more proud to be the hometown of their most famous former resident and we found that out shortly after we got into Hot Springs!

After a fun day in Hot Springs, it was time to go back to our trailer for dinner and our 500 Rummy competition.  Did I mention that I was ahead in the tournament by almost double the wins of Soko?

We were not in any hurry to start our day 2 in Arkansas as we were not going too far.  In fact, our plan was to spend the day hiking on the trails here in Lake Catherine State Park.  So we spent most of the morning cooking enough breakfast to last us the rest of our trip.  It makes it easy on traveling days to put together egg sandwiches or pancake roll-ups to eat in the car when everything is made already and just needs to be put together and popped into the microwave.

Then I needed to pose for some pictures near the lake that shares my name!

We had a nice morning and after lunch set off to find the park's trails.  We walked about 10 minutes from our campsite to the trails.  There were three trails but our plan was to hike the Falls Branch Trail which went by The Falls Creek Waterfall.  It was 2 miles and the easiest of the three with the terrain being only steep and rugged in places unlike the other two that were described as Steep and Rugged!  

We really enjoyed this gorgeous trail.  There were so many beautiful little waterfalls throughout this entire trail.  I was loving this hike which was mostly easy but I was very glad to have my hiking stick with me as it got very tricky in spots.

And then we got to The Falls Creek Waterfall.  It wasn't the biggest waterfall we have ever seen but bigger than we expected.  We thought it was spectacular and amazing and we had it all to ourselves.  We spent a good amount of time enjoying the view and taking plenty of pictures.

At the end of the trail we were treated to a special surprise.  This rickety bridge swayed with every step we took but that made it so much fun to cross and we made it safely to the other side. 

We will definitely be highlighting this campground on our list of state park campgrounds and will probably  stop here on our next road trip out west even if we have to go out of our way a bit to get to it.

We had enough time, when we finished our hike, to shower and get ready for a Saturday evening mass at the Catholic Church of St. John The Baptist.  This was a pretty big church and a very popular mass.  It was packed with parishioners.  

The church was near the Oaklawn Race Track that we kept seeing ads for so we took a quick stop to see it and then called it a night.  We had time, when we got back to the campsite, to play one hand of cards, which I won!  Soko did catch up when we played later in our journey, but I ended up winning the tournament in the end.  It could have been because Soko let me win, though, because he knows I'm not a happy loser!!

Next stop, Nashville, TN!

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Monday, June 8, 2020

Fort Worth, TX - FL To NM Road Trip - Stop 6 - Day 2

We headed back into Texas after our visit to New Mexico.  We had stopped in Texas for two days, and enjoyed all San Antonio had to offer, on our way to New Mexico.  On our way back, we were stopping in Dallas/Fort Worth.  We wanted to see both these cities so we dedicated one day to each.  We spent our first day in Dallas.  Today we would be spending the entire day in Fort Worth.

The weather forecast for our day in Fort Worth was not a good one for a full day of sightseeing outdoors but that was our plan for the day!  So we set out prepared with our umbrellas and winter jackets.  We were determined to do everything we had listed on our itinerary.  The first stop of the day was the Stockyards National Historic District.

We were excited about seeing the cattle drive that happens here twice-daily at 11:30 am and 4:00 pm.  It was really cool and fun to get a close up view of  the cattle and cowboys.

After the cattle drive, we made our way to the visitor's center to get a map and a bag of goodies.  The hostess at the visitors's center also gave us free entrance tickets to Billy Bob's Texas, the world's largest honky-tonk. 

The 100,000 square foot entertainment center has 30 bar stations, an indoor rodeo arena, mechanical bulls and a huge dance floor.  Some of country music's biggest stars have performed at this venue.  

It was very early in the afternoon when we went so besides for a small group of people drinking at one of the bar stations, there wasn't anything else going on.  It was still fun to look around though.  Hopefully, we can come back to Fort Worth one day to experience Billy Bob's when it's hopping.  That would make a great memory, I'm sure!

Billy Bob's would be the place to be in the evening but there is plenty to do and see during the day at The Stockyards like the Stockyard Museum and the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.  There are also plenty of gift shops and western wear shops here and we went into most of them looking for souvenirs for the kids. 

We gave our grandpuppy the pet bandana we got in our free bag of goodies at the visitor's center.  We think he liked it!

There were also lots of restaurants here but our plan was to eat lunch at a restaurant that our friends suggested.  We were getting hungry so it was time to leave The Stockyards and find Velvet Taco.

The selection of tacos here were the most unique we have ever seen before.  The taco ingredients included items like charred tomato poblano salsa, house brined pickles and buttered cilantro basmati rice.  It was so hard to make a decision about which one to get and we did only get one because we knew we would be meeting Cristina and Matt for dinner at their favorite BBQ joint in a couple of hours.  Soko finally decided on the picnic chicken taco and I had the grilled flank steak taco.

We shared the barbacoa beef nachos with blue corn chips, queso blanco, roasted corn pico, lime crema, salsa verde, queso fresco and micro clantro.  It was delicious!  Everything we ate here was so fresh and amazing.  We really need to get back here one day to try the rest of their menu!

It drizzled and rained the entire day we were in Fort Worth but we couldn't let that stop us from doing the other sightseeing we wanted to do here.  Next on our itinerary was the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.  (We were determined to see as many gardens as we could on this road trip!)

I especially wanted to check out the Japanese garden here.

  It was so authentic that I started to get homesick for my mom's homeland.

The other areas of these gardens were equally as nice and we were happy that the rain let up a bit when we got here so we were able to enjoy all of it.

We had one more stop before meeting our friends for dinner.  Sundance Square is the heart of downtown Fort Worth and is a 35 block shopping and entertainment district.  By the time we got there, though, the rain was really coming down and it got very cold.  We wound up going to the Cheesecake Factory to have a cup of coffee to wait to see if the rain would let up a bit.  We wanted to, at least, go to the Fort Worth Water Gardens, if not anything else.  The rain never let up so no water gardens for us, but we did take a ride past it to get a glimpse at least.

We toured the rest of the downtown area by car but would have loved to be able to walk around the city.  Next time!

Now it was time to meet up with our friends and have some Texas BBQ.  Their suggestion was Heim Barbeque whose food Cristina and Matt have enjoyed since the days they sold their delicious meats and sides from a food truck.

Cristina was nice enough to order for us to make sure we got to try all their best offerings.  The guys got a plateful of meats and the girls got the brisket sandwiches.  The meats were smoky and tender and the sides, mac and cheese, twice baked potato salad and coleslaw were all so yummy.  We knew from the first bite why this place is a favorite of Cristina and Matt.

We also had the most delicious banana pudding, complete with crushed vanilla wafers and banana slices, that I have ever eaten and bacon burnt ends which I'd never had before but haven't stopped thinking about having again one day!

One of the best things about road tripping is that you sometimes wind up in someone's new hometown and can catch up a bit after not seeing them for years.  We had so much fun catching up with these two!

After a day of spending the entire day eating delicious food, (Did I mention the Whataburger Breakfast Burger Soko ate to start the day off and the cheesecake we shared at the Cheesecake Factory?!) it was time for us to head back to the campsite but we should have been heading to the gym!  

Next stop Arkansas!!